The FCC on Thursday pushed forward its effort to roll back Title II utility regulation of internet service providers, sparking fierce backlash from net neutrality advocates and applause from operators like Verizon and Comcast.
The notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) seeks to return classification of broadband service to that of a Title I information service, calls for the elimination of the “internet conduct standard” included in the 2015 Title II order, and seeks comment on the existing rules governing ISPs’ practices.
Chairman Ajit Pai and Commissioner Michael O’Rielly advanced the measure in a 2-1 vote over the vociferous objections of Commissioner Mignon Clyburn. Pai characterized the move as “the start of a new chapter in the public discussion about how we can best maintain a free and open internet while making sure that ISPs have strong incentives to bring next-generation networks and services to all Americans.” But Clyburn argued the initiative was based on “hollow” theories and would weaken the Commission’s ability to provide broadband services to the poorest and most remotely located Americans.
“Today’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking more appropriately should be known as the ‘Destroying Internet Freedom NPRM,’” Clyburn commented. “If ratified it would deeply damage the ability of the FCC to be a champion of consumers in competition in the 21st century. It contains a hollow theory of trickle down internet economics, suggesting that if we just remove enough regulations from your broadband provider, they will automatically improve your service, pass along discounts from those speculative savings, deploy more infrastructure with haste, and treat every provider fairly.”
Backing Clyburn after the vote were a number of net neutrality advocates, including National Hispanic Media Coalition and Gigi Sohn, who served as Counselor to former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler from 2013 to 2016.
“It is no secret that net neutrality is enormously popular with the American people, and the previous FCC made sure to ensure, and the courts agreed, that its rules were grounded in the strongest legal authority (Title II of the Communications Act of 1934),” Sohn said in a statement. “However, today’s action signifies more than a fight over net neutrality. What is now at stake is the ability of the FCC – the expert agency by law – to protect consumers on what is now one of the most critical inputs to the U.S. economy – broadband networks. Instead, Chairman Pai is proposing to abdicate the FCC’s role and give it to the Federal Trade Commission, which, while an important partner, cannot make rules and lacks the technical expertise to do so. Under the FTC, consumers will have no protection whatsoever until long after the harm to them is done.”
Many ISPs and industry associations, by contrast, applauded the move. Among them were Verizon, Comcast, the Telecommunications Industry Association, and Tech Knowledge.
“The FCC applied decades-old public utility regulation (Title II) to today’s competitive and dynamic broadband market. This was a serious mistake that threatens innovation and investment in this important segment of the U.S. economy. The FCC under Chairman Pai’s leadership took an important step towards returning to the regulatory framework that was so successful for so many years,” Verizon General Counsel and EVP of Public Policy Craig Silliman commented.
However, Silliman and other internet industry associations like Tech Freedom, the Developer’s Alliance, and the Internet Innovation Alliance called on Congress to put an end to the see-sawing rules at the FCC.
“The Developers Alliance supports a stable environment that promotes innovation and business growth. Developers need an internet – wired and wireless – that is open, competitive, stable, fast, and fair to all who use it,” Developers Alliance President and CEO Jake Ward said in a statement. “As the FCC is set to once again rewrite the rules governing the internet, it is past time for Congress to enact legislation to finally put the issue of net neutrality to rest to give developers and entrepreneurs the certainty they need to support future investment and innovation.”
Filed Under: Industry regulations